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EatJan. 29, 2006: Blood-Sugar Regulation
In the interest of completeness, we'll finish off the topic of sugar by discussing the concept of blood-sugar regulation. Basically, "carbohydrate" is a fancy word for "sugar", as all carbohydrates get broken down in the body into sugar. Even all those healthy vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach, asparagus etc. get broken down into sugars to be absorbed by the body as fuel. Maintaining an even blood-sugar level is critical for overall health, and many of today's major diseases like diabetes and heart disease, are directly related to a lack of blood-sugar regulation.
The body is always trying to maintain homeostasis, and is only happy with a small window of variation in blood sugar. If we eat a very sugary snack without any protein or fat to slow the absorption into the bloodstream, the blood-sugar level quickly rises above the body's comfort zone and the body responds by secreting a whole lot of insulin (your fat-storage hormone) to quickly take the sugar level back down to normal by storing the excess sugar that can't be used as fuel, as fat. Often too much insulin is secreted in the body's panicked response to the sky-rocketing blood-sugar levels, and consequently blood sugar plummets too low, causing a crash in energy and a strong craving for more sugar in the body's desperate attempt to bring blood-sugar levels to within normal limits. So, we reach for that cookie, and the cycle starts all over again.
Some people cycle between too high and too low blood-sugar levels all day, and this is extremely hard on the body. Over time, you gain fat weight because the cells of the body can only use so much sugar as fuel at a time, so insulin is constantly asked to convert the left-over sugar to fat. More time passes and you become insulin resistant, because it takes more and more insulin to lower the blood-sugar, and finally the insulin stops working altogether, so your blood-sugar remains high, and you develop type 2 diabetes. More time passes and you get the heart disease diagnosis, as the constantly high blood sugar makes the blood components sticky, and slowly destroys the structural proteins of the arteries.
It is important, therefore, to regulate your blood sugar by choosing carbohydrates that break down into sugar gradually. The best choices are organic above-ground vegetables, as they are full of nutrition, yet less starchy and sweet than the below-ground vegetables. Whole grains like brown rice, millet, quinoi etc. that have not been flaked or ground into flour are also healthy choices particularly for carbohydrate or mixed types. (Read my tip on Customized Nutrition for more information on nutrition based on your own biochemical individuality). Protein types tend to be very insulin sensitive and tend to gain weight on a diet high in grain, flour products like bread or pasta, below-ground vegetables and fruit. Research by Jarvi et al. shows that once grain is ground into flour, even if the fibre content remains the same, it turns into sugar much more quickly in the body, so instead, choose flourless breads made of sprouted grain, like Manna or Ezekiel breads. Consuming some quality protein and fat along with the non-starchy vegetables and whole grain is also very helpful in slowing the sugar rush into the blood. The more starchy or sweet the meal or snack, the more quality protein and fat is needed to balance it, so eat smaller quantities so you are not over-eating in the calorie department. It is due to the problems of blood-sugar regulation that consuming products that contain straight sugar is such a problem for the body and should be avoided by everyone. Alcohol creates an insulin response just as sugar does, so reducing alcohol consumption is also very important if you are trying to lose weight, avoid disease and improve your health.
To help you understand the studies below, high glycemic foods refer to foods that break down into sugar quickly, whereas low glycemic foods break down into sugar slowly.
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